Train Station Volunteers Help Ukrainians Find Their Way

  • Each week, hundreds of Ukrainians travel by train from Bucharest, Romania, to other parts of Europe.
  • Volunteers at Bucharest’s main train station help them navigate a foreign bureaucracy.
  • One volunteer told Insider that each day she encounters something that sticks with her.

BUCHAREST, Romania — Wearing fluorescent yellow and orange vests that signal what languages ​​they speak, volunteers, many of them still teenagers, come to Bucharest’s main train station every day of the week to help Ukrainians navigate a foreign bureaucracy.

Some are recent refugees themselves — from Russia — and their goal is to help displaced people who have fled their homes to get to where they want to be.

Of the nearly 750,000 Ukrainians who have chosen to flee to Romania, second only to Poland, the vast majority continue on to somewhere else. The Romanian government helps with that. Passage on the country’s rails is free for refugees, taking them to Bulgaria, Hungary, or Moldova.

On Wednesday night, there was a long line at the sole international ticket window as volunteers and staff from the International Organization for Migration, a United Nations agency, sought to explain to refugees their options: destinations, schedules, and how to continue on their journey once they again reach an international border. If they don’t want to leave that day, the volunteers help find them accommodation for the evening.

Hundreds face the same questions and frustrations every week, most of them coming from the Odesa region in the south of Ukraine, according to IOM staff. Many at the train station choose to head to Sofia, the Bulgarian capital, a NATO member with a Slavic language that is easier to learn for native speakers of Russian and Ukrainian than the Latin-based Romanian.

train arriving at platform

An overnight train brings passengers from Bucharest, Romania, to Chișinău, Moldova.

Charles Davis/Insider

Nellie Gospodinova has been volunteering for the last month with the Romanian Red Cross, not just at the train station but at a shelter for single mothers. A native of Bulgaria herself, the 47-year-old now lives in Bucharest, working for a tech company. She said she wanted the world to recognize Romania’s efforts, noting that volunteers were working side by side with local police and firefighters.

“It’s a coordinated response, so volunteers are never alone,” she told Insider. “I’ve been living here three years. I know Romanians. But I was impressed with the empathy they show and everything they do.”

Every time she comes to the train station she is struck by what she encounters. A couple of experiences linger with her.

“She was 72. She arrived early in early morning hours, like 1 or 2. She was lost at the station. And she was traveling alone,” Gospodinova said. “What was unique about her was that, you know, how could I put it? She was shocked, but she showed it in like sharing the photos from the bombing in Mykolaivtalking about her life, how it used to be.”

volunteers in orange and yellow vests

Volunteers help translate for Ukrainian refugees at the Gara București Nord train station in Bucharest, Romania.

Charles Davis/Insider

That is not the only person she has seen in Romania shocked by what they experienced in Ukraine. Most are younger.

“It was the first time I saw a traumatized child,” Gospodinova recounted. “He was with his mother. He was like 9, 10 years old. And with their dog. They had just arrived, it was late at night and, well, he didn’t want to communicate. He was shocked, overwhelmed by emotions And their dog, their pet — it was literally crying. All of them were so stressed and tired and exhausted from the trip.”

She offered them food, drink, and accommodation. A week later, she saw them at the station again. “And the dog looked better—and the boy, and the mother.”

Every day is like that, she said: “I meet different people with different stories. And they all need help.”

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